Last large American pencil factory to close in 2009

And Then There Were Three??, a new post at Timberlines, a blog by pencil industry leader WoodChuck, reveals that the last large American based pencil manufacturer – Sanford – will be closing their US manufacturing facilities in 2009, moving production to Mexico.

The closures were announced in early November.

Two newspaper reports:

Sanford closing; 355 jobs to be lost Marshall County Tribune, November 12, 2008

Sanford regrouping to cost Shelbyville jobs Shelbyville Times-Gazette, November 11, 2008

In other relocation news, Woodchuck also noted here this morning that Lyra (Germany) will be moving production to China. (Lyra joined Dixon as a FILA acquisition earlier this year.) has some nice photos of the Sanford plant in Lewisberg.

When I read about pencils being packaged by hand, I suspect that the factory wasn’t “modern” by any means. The mainstream Sanford pencils – the Mirado and Mirado Black warrior – have their fans, yet there seem to be many who feel the product lines have been allowed to deteriorate in quality over the years.

I also wonder where this leaves the remaining small independent manufacturers – General and Musgrave. Will the departure of their large competitor impact their own supply chain?

Though the story still has time to unfold, and could surprise us, it seems like an era is coming to an end. What are your thoughts?

11 Replies to “Last large American pencil factory to close in 2009”

  1. When I read things like these I feel a bit sad. Not only because the loss of jobs, what can be difficult enough for small communities in good times, but devastating in times like these. No, it is also because so many things seem to end these days.
    Am I getting old, or are a lot of the traditional business forced to exit?

    I relay heavily on electronics to do my job and entertain me, but at the same time I feel often vulnerable. What if the electronics do fail? How am I going to do my job with pen, ink, paper, pencil, eraser and carbon-copy-paper?
    Why does all these good things have to disappear, get out-sourced.
    Or for that matter, why do so many good products have to get a new packaging, a new colour, every other month? Or even worse, why do so many good things that I have discovered after long searching have to be changed, made cheaper, made less in quality?

  2. Its entirely possible that General and Musgrave will do better with Sanfords departure. Assuming their is a market for genuine American made quality pencils then General and Musgrave are now the only two sources.

  3. Alec: I know how you feel. Sometimes I think there ought to be a sort of “national treasure” designation or something for products that have stood the test of time so that there would be an incentive for companies not too fool around with them or discontinue them. It seems like there was a time when you could count on a product remaining virtually unchanged year-in, year-out, but not anymore. Over my 50+ years I’ve formed attachments to certain products and things, and it is a cause of genuine mourning when they become degraded or disappear. And it seems that the degradations and disappearances happen on a regular basis these days. I’m going to order some General’s pencils at my first opportunity (I already have a nice stash of Musgraves).

  4. “Assuming there is a market for genuine American made quality pencils.”

    I’m not willing to make such a bold assumption. The cheap, disposable, .5mm “clicker” mechanical pencils dominate the pencil market, as far as I can tell.


  5. While it is sad to witness the end of any long-standing brand, it might just be the simple matter that these products are no longer able to compete in the current global market due to cost or inadequate quality. I suppose poor management and the lack of an effective marketing plan would be the obvious reasons why they might have failed to find their niche. I just hope that my current Japanese and German favorite graphite products will manage to avoid similar fates during these difficult economic times.

  6. @Steve, I agree, it sometimes indeed looks like a mourning.

    @ Don J, there is always a market, the question is if it is large enough or that it can be reached without to much cost. Just look at, they make nice american boots, but also import boots from China.
    But with the current internet possibilities it should be easy to start a internet shop.

    @ Alberto, I agree very much with you. I use on a daily basis the Graf von Faber Castell as it is a nice and thick pencil, good grip and a nice line, high in quality and consistent. But since I’ve tried the Hi-Uni from Mitshu Bishi, those pencis have become a favorite as well. They ought to be a tad ticker, but they put down such a superb nice black line, so smooth..
    Where to go to if they disappear as well?

    But I think there isn’t place enough for all those producers in a current market. There could be only enough turn over for three large or two large and several very small manufactures, world wide. The increasing use of laptops (no letter sized notebook & pencil needed) and the upcoming of the smart phone (no need for a notepad and a never-leaking pencil in you back pocket) will eventually push the pencil in the same corner as the stencil machine, typewriter and the teapot warm: used and loved by few but disregarded by most.

  7. I was wondering how long the Sanford plants would still be going after Dixon Ticonderoga went to Mexico. I have noticed the drop in quality of my favorite Mirado Classic, and wouldn’t buy it until just yesterday. A local Office Depot is shutting down and selling pencils at 20% off. The older “Sanford” (pre-Papermate) were much higher quality. I wished I’d bought more of the older late 90’s version when I bought the box of 72 at Sam’s Club way back when.
    I’ve now got lots of older U.S. made cedar pencils stockpiled, so I should be good for some time. I’ve still got some General’s pencils, but my favorite graphite remains the older Sanford Mirado Classic.

  8. Bought the “American Classic” from office depot, received the “Classic”. The American and USA is now missing. Sending them back and telling them to update the website to remove “American Made”. Buying the General Semi-Hex.

  9. Can anyone help me find a legitimate pencil manufacturer of wood pencils. I would prefer one within the USA but if not, outside is fine, as long as it is reputable.

    Thank you so much!!

  10. The first one that comes to mind in the USA is General Pencil:

    They mainly sell drawing pencils (easy to find), but still have a writing pencil selection (harder to find).

    There is also Musgrave.

  11. Hi there,

    I’m looking to purchase Blaisdell Hard 634-T paper pencils. I have a good friend who will only use these pencils for his art — he does incredible work — and is running low on this hard to find item. Do you have any of these available for purchase or do you know where I might be able to connect to individuals who could assist me in my search? I would be willing to pay whatever is considered fair by the seller.

    If you have any information at all that could result in me finding some of these pencils, please email me back as soon as is convenient. I will pay a reasonable finder fee per pencil that I am sold.

    Thanks so much for your time,

    James Knight
    phone: 208-413-1324

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